Microsoft SharePoint is everywhere these days, and while intrinsically it is a great platform for sharing, many organizations are struggling to reap this most basic benefit. Did you ever ask yourself why a product whose name starts with 'share' is actually rarely used for that specific purpose?
Yes, SharePoint holds many promises but many of you are not yet getting your full bang for the buck. Why is that the case, and what can you do to solve it?
SharePoint: designed for easy sharing
SharePoint has a come a long way since the early days, back in 2001, when SharePoint Portal Server and SharePoint Team Services were launched. In the years after that, other building blocks were added along the way, as illustrated in this SharePoint history chart, but it wasn't until the release of MOSS 2007 that these building blocks were brought together into a single integrated platform. The 2007 release of SharePoint has seen tremendous business success: it combined collaboration, portal, search, content management, business forms and business intelligence into one consistent piece of software. The exponential rise of SharePoint in the enterprise has been further stimulated by the much-anticipated and significantly improved 2010 release. The rest is history...
Ever since the origins of the SharePoint family, today a multi-billion dollar product suite, sharing has been at the core. Essentially everything is a list - you can put things in lists and share them with your colleagues. This fundamentally simple concept has certainly contributed to the overwhelming success of SharePoint around the world.
But somehow organisations are not yet getting their full bang for the buck. Often it already goes wrong at the start, when SharePoint is introduced with a focus on IT aspects, cost and project management, rather than from a genuine understanding of sharing as a new business model. Others claim that the product is too complex for most end users, and as Steve Krug taught us many years ago:
If something is hard to use, I just don't use it as much. (Steve Krug, 'Don't Make Me Think')
Snapshot of today’s trends in SharePoint usage
At J. Boye we regularly discuss this topic with the many SharePoint users in our various intranet groups. From this, I have derived the 4 following trends - confirmed by industry reports - about how SharePoint is actually deployed and used:
1) SharePoint's most popular feature is the usage of Team Sites and workspaces for collaboration, closely followed by intranet sites and news portals. A complete list is shown in the figure below: (from the AIIM Market Intelligence report on the usage of SharePoint)
2) SharePoint is often deployed in parallel, and not as a replacement of, other enterprise systems and the traditional intranet. While this approach allows for flexibility and time to run proper pilots, it's inherently a duplication of effort and of infrastructure.
3) The most common challenge mentioned by our members is user adoption. SharePoint is often perceived as complex, non-user friendly, and not mainstream within the organization (for instance, used by IT only or at headquarters only, and not in the rest of the organization).
4) Deploy first, do strategy later: Organizations rush into deployment and piloting without clear objectives. I've discussed this in more detail in an article about how to leverage the social features of SharePoint, which was a big topic at the J. Boye conference in Philadelphia, May 8-10, 2012.
Not present at time of photo: sharing!
True sharing needs to go beyond just deploying the latest technology and hoping for the best. I've discussed the idea of sharing on your intranet in a previous article. I'm convinced that SharePoint can support sharing in many different ways, but today only limited progress has been made:
- Social features: Employees need to be able to connect with each other and share opinions, experiences and common interests. The My Sites functionality of SharePoint is a great place to start doing this, but many organizations are struggling with adoption and quality of information.
- Mobile access: True sharing means access to information anywhere, anytime, not just from behind an office desk. While mobile support is much improved in SharePoint 2010, most organization do not yet see mobile access as a priority or are struggling with the consequences of 'Bring Your Own Device'
- Collaboration: This is the area where SharePoint has made the biggest impact, but still many organizations are not leveraging the full potential. Sharing of knowledge is often limited to departmental Team Sites, reducing SharePoint de facto to a glorified system of shared network drives.
- User experience: Poor usability is often quoted as a major roadblock to SharePoint adoption. Often the technology is deployed ‘out of the box’, with little or no customization or integration with an existing intranet. Sharing and caring are difficult if the technology is working against you!
The solution? Focus and show you care!
No, there is no single right way to introduce SharePoint in your organisation. The platform is very versatile, which is a blessing and a curse at the same time. From my experience, the trick is to focus: pick one particular business benefit that you want to achieve, such as sharing of employee knowledge, and then focus your attention and resources on that area.
And if you really care about getting the most out of SharePoint, then show it by ensuring that the platform is introduced with the right focus. Make sure that the focus is not exclusively on IT, technology or vendors, but care enough to adapt and customize the software to your end users' needs.